Location is everything, or so they say, when it comes to setting up a new restaurant. By which “they” usually mean a buzzy neighborhood with convenient access from the nearest station.
Try telling that to American chef Katy Cole. She subscribes to the “if you build it they will come” school of thought. Or in her case: If you create a warm space with a personal touch and some great food, they will certainly walk a few extra minutes away from Meguro’s main drag.
Her restaurant, Locale, only opened at the beginning of October but already feels so comfortable and lived-in you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s been there for years. And in a sense it has. That’s because she’s taken over the space previously occupied by chef Shin Harakawa and his much-loved (and mourned) Restaurant Beard.
Before arriving in Japan, Cole worked at the Michelin-starred State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. Once here, she took charge of the kitchen at Garden House Crafts in the impressive Daikanyama Log Road development. Now, with two years of restaurant experience in Tokyo under her belt, she has made her move.
She has found the perfect premises to craft her own cuisine. Anyone who visited Beard knows how welcoming that cozy dining room feels: the high ceiling with exposed rafters; the large table by the picture window overlooking the street; and, as the beating heart of the operation, Cole’s spacious open kitchen.
Working solo, just as Harakawa used to, she offers seven or eight dishes to choose from each day. Or just give her carte blanche to compose the whole meal. Whichever, it’s all about slowing down with some wine (of the natural persuasion) or beer (from Mikkeller) and settling in for a leisurely evening.
The starting point for Cole’s menu is always the vegetable boxes she receives from the network of organic farmers she has built up around Japan. Initially, Hokkaido supplied most of the produce. Now it’s from more southerly points. But whatever is delivered, that will determine what goes on the menu.
The same ethos extends to the fowl and meat. She sources her pork from Kagoshima and lamb from Hokkaido. Recently, out of the blue she was offered half a veal from a ranch in Iwate. Of course she accepted — and then started figuring out how she’d serve it. Look out for her Saitama quail, too, which she braises and breaks up in a rich, warming minestrone with hearty root vegetables garnished with cilantro and crushed faro (primitive wheat).
One signature dish is her avocado, which she tosses with fresh jalapenos in olive oil and arranges on a bed of French lentils marinated with sherry and shallots. This she serves on a layer of yogurt that she thickens with tahini and blends with shibazuke (pickles prepared with red shiso herb), rendering it a striking shade of vivid pink.
One last reason to cheer: Locale is continuing the Beard brunch tradition. Whether eggs or pancakes or the full dinner menu, what better way to salute the weekend?
Set dinner ¥6,000, also a la carte; English spoken